What exactly is thimerosal?

Michael Wagnitz: Decision raises question: What exactly is thimerosal?

Michael Wagnitz | local columnist | Posted: Sunday, April 18, 2010 4:45 am

Since the March 12 decision by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which concluded that thimerosal in vaccines is not linked to autism or any other childhood neurological injury, I’ve been asked by many people: What exactly is thimerosal?

Thimerosal is a fungicide/bactericide used as a preservative in medical products. It is prepared by combining the fungicide ethylmercuric chloride with thiosalicylic acid. The reason for this is to increase the solubility of ethylmercuric chloride in water so it can be added at higher concentrations to products such as vaccines. Thimerosal is 10,000 times more soluble in water than ethylmercuric chloride.

Due to multiple accidental poisonings from ingestion of treated seed, ethylmercuric chloride was banned for use as a fungicide and all other purposes in the 1970s.

The symptoms of ethylmercuric chloride poisoning occurred months after the ingestion of treated seed. The first symptom noticed was paresthesia (nerve damage to fingers and toes) followed by ataxia (loss of coordination of the muscles), dysarthia (difficulty in articulating words) and loss of vision. While some functionality did return in some victims, the underlying damage was mostly irreversible. Tens of thousands of parents feel they saw the same symptoms in their children following vaccination with vaccines that contained thimerosal. Most of these children were eventually diagnosed as autistic.

Nobody knows what the safe amount of ethylmercuric chloride is for children. Thimerosal is added to multi-dose vaccine vials at a concentration of 50,000 micrograms per liter (mcg/l) mercury. In Wisconsin, any liquid waste solution which contains more than 200 mcg/l mercury is classified as hazardous waste.

There are four vaccines currently used in Wisconsin that contain this amount of mercury. They are vaccines administered from multi-dose flu, H1N1, meningococcal and tetanus/diphtheria booster vials. The flu and H1N1 vaccine are administered to pregnant women and children 6 months of age. The tetanus is approved for children 7 years and older. The meningococcal is approved for children 12 years and older. This year’s flu and H1N1 vaccines will expire soon and have to be treated as hazardous waste.

The next time your physician or nurse tells you that mercury is no longer used in vaccines (or that the quantity is small), feel free to share this information with them.

Michael Wagnitz of Madison is a chemist specializing in heavy metal poisoning.

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